The special election to replace the late Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., is getting its first big injection of outside money just days into the contest.
Women Vote!, the independent expenditure arm of Democratic women's group EMILY's List, will soon begin a direct-mail program targeting 46,000 voters in Florida's 13th District, where EMILY's List-endorsed Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly are battling over a bellwether district. The six-figure program is divided in two, with one set of mailers seeking to generate votes from independent senior women and a second set seeking to persuade and motivate both women and men who tend to vote in general elections but not in primaries.
The district has one of the biggest senior populations in the country, with nearly 23 percent of residents 65 or older.
Targeted households will receive seven mail pieces, timed differently depending on whether the voters will receive mail ballots. Voters will start getting absentee ballots in early February, while the special election is scheduled for March 11. Jolly, a former Young staffer who has worked as a lobbyist since leaving the Hill, just captured the Republican nomination Tuesday. Sink was unopposed for the Democratic nod.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is also spending in the district Thursday, in a less traditional manner: It released a Web video ad backed by a "six-figure" expenditure that hammered Sink over her spending as Florida's chief financial officer. "It's troubling that Alex Sink spent over $400,000 of Florida families' money to jet around in a taxpayer-funded plane — even using it for personal use and for political campaign events," said NRCC spokeswoman Katie Prill in a statement.
Outside spending figures to be critical in the closely divided district, which President Obama carried narrowly in the 2012 election. Some Republican groups have signaled they may sit the race out, while several Democratic ones, including EMILY's List, have indicated that they expect to be fully involved. EMILY's List endorsed Sink almost immediately after she got into the race. "There is no question for the women and working families of Pinellas: Alex Sink will put them first," EMILY's List spokeswoman Marcy Stech said in a statement. "David Jolly embodies the worst of Washington and is only in it for himself."
That potential Democratic outside-spending advantage is unpredictable given the large amounts of money a single group can inject at a moment's notice, but it is one reason Sink has been considered a favorite in the race. The next steps on both sides will clarify those predictions further. In the absence of reliable public polling, third-party expenditures may provide one of the best clues into how Republicans view Jolly's chances.